Labour's financial dependence on the trade unions has been exaggerated

Just 25 per cent of the party's funding so far this year has come from affiliated unions, with party members donating most.

The GMB's decision to cut its affiliation fees to Labour from £1.2m to £150,000, in advance of Ed Miliband's plan to introduce an opt-in system for trade union members, has refocused attention on the party's relationship with the unions.

Judging by David Cameron's rhetoric, it would be easy to believe that Labour is entirely dependent on them for funding. But while it's true that the latest Electoral Commission figures show that affiliated unions were responsible for 77 per cent (£2.4m) of all donations to the party in Quarter Two, the true picture is more complex. 

The Electoral Commission doesn't publish donations below £7,500, so the funding Labour receives from its 187,537 members isn't included. In reality, as the table below shows, just 25 per cent of Labour funding so far this year has come from affiliated unions, with 29 per cent from members' subs, 22 per cent from grants and 25 per cent from fundraising and commercial sources. 

Labour will certainly suffer a major funding hit from Miliband's union reforms. The party expects around 10 per cent of the existing 2.7 million levy-payers to opt-in, which would reduce the amount it receives in affiliation fees from £8m to around £1m (although it is likely to increase the annual £3 payment). But its dependence on the unions has been much exaggerated.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.